Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Amazingly Short Half-life of World Cup Narratives

A few days ago, it was the fall of Europe, and the rise of the Western Hemisphere. It made some sense, what with all of the teams from Conmebol or Concacaf except for Honduras advancing, Italy and France going down in flames, England looking very flat, et cetera. Now, South America's two best were eliminated by European teams (one of them decisive in fashion), and three of the four semifinalists (and quite likely both finalists) will probably turn out to be European.

Similarly, the US was moments a way from an embarrassing three-and-out in the final stages of the Algeria game. Then Donovan banged home his rebound, and the US had a golden opportunity to make a historic run to the semifinals. Of course, they coughed up that chance with some strange personnel decisions and poor defending, and exited against Ghana. So it turned out to be a mildly disappointing trip to South Africa, but not out of line with the US's typical results at the World Cup.

Perceptions of Mexico's performance were similarly topsy-turvy. First, the France win was historic, a dominating win over a defending finalist that doubled as a giant leap toward world-power status for Mexican soccer. Then the Uruguay loss meant that Mexico had Argentina in the round of 16, and the French fell apart, which made that win a lot less impressive. The Mexicans wound up eliminated by Argentines in the second round, just as they were in 2006, and exited after four games, as has been the case in every World Cup since 1986.

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